Translated by Ramesh Ramachandran
Sister-in-law, who opened the door struggled to recognise him. When she did, she was shocked. She stammered, swallowed spittle and asked, “Oh you? When did you come?”
“Just now. Came directly. How is dad?”
“Mom (mother-in-law)! Look who has come.”
“Who is that?”
“Who? Bharat” surprise tones rang out from every corner of the hall. Radio was stopped. Children studies were cancelled. Mom, eldest brother, elder brother, elder sister, sisters-in-law, all stood in semi-circle, looked at him with enmity and formed an array around him.
Only the youngest sister-in-law welcomed him. “Come Bharat.” She has changed so much. Where is the beautiful bride?
Mom asked, “Why did you come here?”
“Mom I came to see dad. How is he?”
“All these years you did not think of coming? Why couldn’t you have come to see me?”
“I heard dad has become very ill.”
“Stupid. With what face you are showing up here? Did you even write a letter? Why have you come now? Why?”
“No mom. When Ambi Aiyar told me about dad, I had fear that if I don’t go now, I may not be able to see him alive.”
“What are you going to achieve seeing him?” eldest brother asked him.
“Please don’t …” his sister-in-law interrupted her husband.
“You keep quiet. This is our family matter. Prodigal son has come” said eldest brother and asked him, “what rights you have to see him?”
“Why should I not?” Bharat asked in a serious tone.
“I have the right as a son.”
“Aha Son! How many days did you feed him?”
“We can discuss this later. Now I want to see dad. That’s all!”
“No. You can’t. You have no rights to enter this house. Just get out!”
“Is this house yours brother?”
“Look mom. What is he asking as soon as he got inside?”
“Why did you not come for eight years. First tell us that.”
“This house is still dad’s house. I have all the rights to come here.”
“Mom. He has not come to see dad. He is waiting for the old man to die so that he can ask his share in the property.”
“Hey. Why have you come now? Did you even write a letter to your mom in eight years?”
“Everyone here knows the reason for that” said Bharat.
“Yes we know. It became a laughing stock in the newspapers….”
“Mom he has come for the property.”
“Look here Sridhar. Don’t start a fight unnecessarily. I don’t want the property or anything. Just give me permission to see dad. Where is he lying?”
“Look! He has not changed his character.”
“Let me be. Don’t act stupid. Whatever you say or shout, I will leave only after seeing dad. No need for a fight or barbaric behaviour. Don’t consider me as a son. Consider me as a friend or a spectator. Where is he….?”
“Do you think he is going to recognise you?”
“Why? Is he in coma?”
“No. He will throw spittle at you.”
“No, he won’t. He would recognise me. Even after eight centuries he will remember me!”
“Old man does not remember what happened yesterday. How is he going to remember him after all these years?”
“OK Mom. Why quarrel with him? He won’t go without seeing him. As he is born with us let’s show him dad and throw him out of the house.” Said the eldest brother and called one of the kids, “hey Chinni! Come here. You know who is this? Uncle (Chitappa). Your famous uncle. Take him and show him grandpa’s room.”
He walked silently behind Chinni. When he climbed the stairs and turned, he realised all the eyes were piercing him.
A relationship which snapped eight years ago. No enquires. No Letters. No marriage invitation. No news on his whereabouts. They would have heard one or few of the stories about him. He has gone to act in movie or play. Or his wife had run away and he is with a Christian girl. He is born from the rumours of eight years. How are children going to come near him?
“Oh you are the uncle?” asked Chinni.
“Yes.” He replied softly as they approached the room.
“Aunt has not come?”
“Is she dead?”
“What work are you doing?”
“I am just wandering?”
“Oh They used to say someone has gone to prison? Are you that uncle?”
“Hey Chinni. Don’t talk. Just show the room and come back.”
Chinni opened the door and said, “go inside. He would be sleeping.”
Inside, the room smelled of Dettol. In the near darkness in the room, he could see a blanket in zero-watt neon light.
He looked for the switch, put it on. Went near him and removed the blanket and he was immediately shocked.
My God. This is not my dad. This is just half of my dad. He has shrunk. Eyes look like dark caves. Cheeks drawn inside. Nerves in the hands and bones in the chest were visible…. Life?
No answer. He was looking at him for some time. In his mind different images of his dad came and disappeared.
He sat on the bed and touched his forehead. It was hot. He took dad’s hands and kept them on his cheeks. Tears came rushing.
Suddenly as if he got out of a dream chain, he opened his eyes.
“Who is this?”
“It’s me, dad. Bharat.”
He moved his head and looked at him.
“Bharat….? Bharat…..? My third son?”
“Yes dad. Yes.”
“Is it you?” – the voice sounded as if coming out of a well. Where is that deep and sound voice of yesteryears?
“Yes dad. It’s me!”
“Are you OK?”
“Where were you all these days?”
“I have come dad.”
“I know you would come. Did you eat?”
“Eat first. Otherwise they will say no food. All ratchasis. Three ratchasis(1) … no four.”
“What happened to your health dad?”
“Nothing, just tiredness. Is this really Bharat?”
The hand slowly raised and combed his hair with fingers, “Bharat I have not done anything for you properly” old man’s eyes were moist.
“It’s OK dad. Leave it”
“Look at me. Will I die soon? If I go early it’s better.”
“Don’t worry dad. You will recover.”
“Always thinking about you.”
“Same here dad.”
“Come near me” old man thought about every word and spoke slowly.
“Look at this room. Looks like a cremation ground. They have locked me here and all of them are at the ground level. No one talks to me even for five minutes in a day. My tongue is dead. I have been telling for last one week to get me an orange fruit…. Are you sure no one is here?”
“No one is here dad.”
“They would be keeping all the fruits with them. They eat all of it. Your mom is the oldest ratchasi (Daemon). She has not seen me for last three days. All are waiting for my death Bharat.”
“No dad. You will be alright.”
“Will you get me an orange?”
“Look at this medicine. They have mixed poison in this. I will not drink it.”
“No dad. They won’t do anything like that.”
“All are waiting….. Where do you live?”
“I keep roaming dad. Nothing permanent.”
“You are staying in a house?”
“No dad. In a small room.”
“Do you have place for me? Will you take me?”
“Can we go now?”
“Not today dad. Tomorrow Morning.”
“Can’t we go now?”
“No dad. You sleep now. We will go tomorrow morning.”
“Can you take me away from this cremation ground?”
His face became little peaceful.
He leaned on his dad, combed his hair with his fingers and said, “Dad”
“You and I used to play cricket. You remember that?”
Memory became a smile.
“Both played in the same team. You got run out after scoring 19 runs. You could not keep up with me. Sorry dad. It was a wrong call on my part. It was my mistake.”
“Tell me more.”
“You taught me to swim in Ayyan Channel. You would throw me inside and make me go breathless. Then we will pluck Guava fruits. Without letting mom know, I used to get you Berkeley cigarettes. We used to play with catapult to hunt sparrows. We used to lie down in the river bed and you used to give names to stars. You used to cook for me in the forest….”
He narrated incident after incident. The emotional bonding between father and son, friendship, hand wrestling, long walks, runs, trading secrets, village dramas and Ramayana shows, Alice in Wonderland….
“Bharat!” he held his hands, “You and me are one.”
“Dad you remember narrating about Eldorado? I went chasing it dad. Without realising its imaginary Gold, I ran after what was glittering!”
“I also chased it” said his dad.
“Dad! When I first saw you with Sarasu, I got stunned. Only after many years I could understand why. But I did not talk about it to anyone. Not till today. After the incident a gap developed between us. Our closeness got severed. We started fearing each other. The image I had about you in my mind was torn. After that, I left and moved from place to place, severed relationships, got separated from wife… no dad. Let’s erase all that. Up to Sarasu, there is no vulgarity. Let’s stop there. We will erase all that happened afterwards….”
Dad shook his head. “Let that also be there” he said. “Bharat! Come near me.”
“Would you take me away tomorrow morning. To your place..”
“What time is the train?”
“Let’s start early dad.”
“I can’t walk.”
“I will carry you on my shoulders just as you used to carry me.”
“Will I become alright?”
“Once I recover, buy me new pair of spectacles.”
“Read me Hemingway’s Kilimanjaro”
“Marks, Tamil Poetries, Dostoevsky, Bossler, Russel and…..”
“Look here. This stick, two dhotis, two vests. That’s all I have. I don’t have shoes to walk. Pack them now.”
“I will buy dad.”
“We should walk a lot.” His face brightened. With a smile he called him very near to him and with a twinkle in his eyes said, “Bharat I will tell you a secret. No one knows it.”
He told him.
He was looking at him throughout the night. Around 3 AM he could realise he was dead. He was lying down as if he was asleep. The smile on his lips was still there.
As Bharat moved aside, one by one, everyone came near him and cried. First heavily and then subtly. Then there was silence…
“He came and he finished him off. Old man could not take the shock. Why should this guy come suddenly…?
“Brother. One small matter. Come here!”
“What do you want?”
“Before dying dad told me everything, He has made a will stating that the land and house should come to me. Once the ceremonies are over write to me in this address. I will come change everything to your name.”
“Bharat, where are you going?”
He walked out without looking back.
Footnote: (1) (Ratchsa/ratchasi is giant titan in old epics. Huge creatures that devour human beings).
About the author and translator:
Sujatha (1935 – 2008) was the pseudonym of Tamil writer S. Rangarajan, author of over 100 novels, 250 short stories, 10 books on science, 10 stage plays, and a slim volume of poems. He is one of the most popular authors in Tamil literature, and was a regular contributor to topical columns in Tamil periodicals such as Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam and Kalki. He had a wide readership, and served for a brief period as the editor of Kumudam, and has also composed screenplays and dialogues for several Tamil movies.
Ramesh Ramachandran is a seasoned management professional with 30+ years of work experience across verticals, especially in the Speciality Chemicals industry. His passion includes travel and biking and since last two years, he has started writing blogs. Please visit his site: Biking.Travel.Nostalgia (https://kaveripak.com/). The above translation first appeared in his blog site.